Desensitise. Desensitise. Desenstise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desenstise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desenstise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desenstise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desenstise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desensitise. Desenstise. Desensitise. Deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…
I remember studying structuralist and post-structuralist theory at Uni. I was fascinated by binary opposites and deconstruction and it’s no great surprise that I’m into a non-dual spiritual tradition these days. My dear university buddy and I would laugh for hours as we repeated swearwords over and over in a bid to empty the word of its meaning – a highly intellectual practice, I’m sure you’ll agree.
When you repeat something mindlessly, you get further and further away from what it is, why the hell you do it and why it’s so hard to let go of. It somehow becomes a part of your identity and just one of the things you ‘do’. Like numbing out on Netflix, shopping, chocolate, tequila, fags, drugs, Yorkshire puddings. Pete and I used to have a weekend thing where we’d go crazy on pizza and ‘treats’ so we could bask in the slump of the low-sugar pressure drop. Some of us are big advocates of tightly locked boxes and carefully managed compartments. Or maybe weed is your medicine and you prefer to sidestep into an alternate reality for the evening.
I’ve been a big fan of desensitization, sanitation and survival – because that’s what it is, most of the time. We have to switch off from the tough stuff because we don’t have the tools and resources to tune in. No one ever tells us that the way to work through pain and fear and guilt and shame is to actually feel your way into it. I’m sure some folks do get told this but, for me, it was a revelation that keeps unraveling. And boy, is it hard to do.
First you have to wake up the feeling body. The physical body. The most dense form of ourselves, and start to tune into what is really happening at any given time. I’ve learnt that when I’m in survival mode my quads turn to stone. I am literally in the freeze zone of ‘flight, fright or freeze’, as my sympathetic nervous system fires up. This tends to happen around people I’m afraid of. I notice it when I feel off centre and, for whatever reason, I’m not being myself. My stomach is another big communicator. My digestion completely shuts down in certain situations and even though I think I’m as happy as our good friend Larry, my body, on some level, is not.
In yogic traditions, we can start to decode these physical clues through the idea of saṃskāras. These are deep impressions that are made upon our psyches due to unresolved past experiences of pleasure or pain. To quote Christopher Wallis, “impressions unconsciously shape our preferences and the assumptions we project onto the people and situations we encounter. The stronger the emotional impact of an experience, the deeper the impression that is formed, until we end up with a whole network of impressions that function as a filter to reality. Some of these impressions are ‘toxic’ in the sense that they are so strong that they create exaggerated fear responses when no threat (or only a mild threat) is present, or create attachments to people or things that are not actually very healthy for us.”
So sure, I’d rather not have granite thighs and look like I’m in the third trimester of pregnancy but it’s all good information. There are some experiences that I am yet to digest and, until I am ready to do that, my body will hold on. And that’s ok. At least I’m aware of it. At least I can feel it. With awareness and feeling I can heal and protect myself. I can create boundaries and support systems. I can open up my medicine bag and prescribe the right kind of magic to calm my nervous system, bring me back to my centre, help me soften and call me home to what is really present.
Yoga is the art of resensitising and waking up the parts of yourself that have been asleep for way too long. Studying the structures within the structures, the koshas, the layers upon layers, we work in subtle ways to get intimate with the physical body before working on more and more refined levels of being. To tap into deeper and deeper realities through direct experience that opens up the rabbit hole and leads us closer to the truth of who we really are.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds way more exciting than a 16” cheese feast or a large bottle of booze. It also has the added advantage of allowing me to both remember what’s happened and stay in my centre. And I can attest that being in a room full of yogis who are getting deeply connected is a whole new level of psychedelia. I recently came back from assisting a four-day immersion in London and I was stoned out of my mind without doing a single pose. I was just high on the perfume of everyone else’s subtle bodies intermingling in the cauldron of empowerment. And that, my friends, is what I call a perfectly balanced cocktail.